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Food, Dining, & Drinks
As a Muslim country, Azerbaijanis are fairly conservative
(although they are fairly liberal on Muslim standards) so before meeting any locals,
make sure your dress is appropriate; this means conservatively dressed with long
pants and preferably long sleeves.
Bring your local hosts a gift of pastries from a local bakery and expect your host
to turn down the gift. This is common, but upon insistence your gift will be expected;
if you are offered a gift, do the same and only accept after you host insists you
take it. Expect your host to ask you to remove your shoes before entering their
house and once inside make an effort to greet every person individually.
As the food is served, expect the host to serve the elders first and you, as a guest
only second. Keep your hands within sight while dining and only begin after being
told to do so or after you host signals the start of the meal. Enjoy your meal,
but only use your right hand to eat.
Tipping in Azerbaijan is only common in Baku at nice
restaurants; about 10% for sit down restaurants is common.
History & Influences
Azerbaijan is in a fairly arid location so doesn't
have a lot of fruit and vegetable options. Historically, this has led to a diet
consisting of breads, soups, and meat or fish products. Although much of the country
is arid, there are locations that have produced some great seasonal foods and herbs,
which were also integrated into the local diet.
Fortunately, the country was located on the ancient Silk Road so received a lot
of spices and dry ingredients through trade with people from Europe,
the Far East, and even from their nearby neighbor,
the Persians. This led to the popularity of rice and a large number of new spices
added to their already wide availability of herbs.
Today, their most popular dishes are a result of their traditional ingredients and
their spices; heavily spiced meat and a spiced rice and meat dish called pilof
are now commonly consumed.
Bread: served with most meals, typically round loaves or lavash
Regional Variations & Specialties
Caviar: fish eggs, the world's best comes from the nearby Caspian
Sea, but much of it is exported
Dolma: ground (minced) lamb and rice wrapped with grape leaves
Kebabs: served alone or with minimal sides, spiced meat meant to
be the star of the dish; there are dozens of varieties based on the seasonings used;
the lula kebab is perhaps the most famous
Black tea is central to Azerbajani culture and, hence is probably the most widely
drunk beverage in Azerbaijan. Two other common and
fairly unique drinks are kvass, which is a fermented, but non-alcohol drink
and sherbet, which is a naturally flavored drink, most commonly consisting
of lemon, pomegranate, or other locally available flavors.
As a primarily Muslim country, alcohol is not commonly drunk, but
Azerbaijan is fairly liberal so beer, vodka, and other drinks are available.
The tap water in Azerbaijan is generally not safe
to drink so it should be avoided.